Can we talk about drones and photography again? Oh let's.

I recently plunged in and researched ( a lot) about using drones in commercial photography. And when I say I researched it's not because I was trying to find the best performance or price; no, I was trying to find out what the rules, regulations and laws are regarding the use of drones to take images for commercial (money paid to me) use. And what I found out was a bit startling considering how many stories I read about professional photographers and videographers using drones in public areas.

My interest had nothing to do with me wanting to fly a drone and get a different point of view. You want a good picture of your neighborhood from the sky? Hire a helicopter. And a licensed pilot. And get an approved flight plan. That's my way of thinking. But no, I had a client who was interested in doing the drone copter thing and I wanted to come into this part of the business with my eyes wide open.

I had no desire to own or operate a Phantom or a some other brand but if I hire a sub-contractor for a project it's important to me to know what my liabilities are going to be. And my client was not a small, under the radar, sort of enterprise that was interested in flying now and asking forgiveness later.  They are a large utility provider operating under a  regulatory microscope.

So, here's the deal. If you are an amateur you can operate your own drone as long as you are not charging for images or imaging services. You are limited to a ceiling height of 200 feet and you must have line-of-sight on the drone at all times. There are plenty of places you can't fly your drone for issues of public safety. These include (but are not limited to) over streets,  within (seriously) five miles of an airport, over public gatherings (outdoor concerts, protests, marches, races) and, while not everyone knows and abides by these rules they are in place and enforced (though enforcement is variable).

The game changes with professional use. You can fly higher but...... You need an FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) operator's license and you need an FAA exemption (form 333? for each event) in order to make any flight for commercial use. Any flight except on your own private property. But even if you are flying on private property you need to enforce a 500 foot diameter exclusion zone around your drone position to ensure public safety. While, from a copyright and privacy point of view, you are allowed to photograph people or property that is viewable from public airspace, in order to overfly private property for the purpose of commercial photographic drone-ism you MUST get signed releases or waivers from every single property owner in your flight path. The penalties are big.

The rules are still in flux but  sources in counter-intelligence say that the small drones one can buy from camera stores, video dealers and online for around $1,000 are destined to be the favorite weapon of terrorists for the next ten years or more. The breaching of the White House airspace by a consumer drone (quadcopter) was a huge wake-up call for intelligence agencies and the people tasked with maintaining our national security. With cellphone control technology advances and ever shrinking bomb and nascent molecular explosives technology their biggest fear is not from a large, lone drone but a swarm of smaller, armed drones. Only one needs to get through the countermeasures to cause real damage and loss of life.  Normal citizens should also fear the ability of close flying drones to carry electronics that can intrude on private information networks and capture vital personal and financial data.

The defense industry is already deep into countermeasures which might include radio white noise fields around key installations. The radio white noise kills the wi-fi connection to the drone, bringing them to ground. The Chinese military is experimenting with mid-powered, multi-spread pattern lasers to kill incoming drones but the energy consumption in mobile field applications is still problematic. An undisclosed government is experimenting with directional EMP (electro magnetic pulse) devices that would kill the silicon in the drones. I favor the fully automatic shotgun for incoming drones. The shorter barrels on the automatics give a wider spread so less range but better kill potential. How about cannons that shoot fine mesh nets into the flight space? It's all out there being worked on.

So what will the first successful terrorist drone attacks on western civilian targets mean for photographers? I think the industry that makes and markets the drones will suffer from a wide range restrictions and licensing. In popular culture I hear people flaunt the current rules all the time and usually without consequences but I think there will come a time when people will respond to the presence of drones in a very negative way and it will be very hard to successfully incorporate them into functional photographic businesses.

My point of view is that the widespread use of drones and the plummeting cost of ownership is akin to putting fully automatic weapons into the hands of children. After doing my research I am amazed that makers of drones have been allowed to mass produce and disseminate them. I think we are one horrific event away from a regulatory environment that will essentially kill this niche----and probably for very logical reasons.

While there are valid uses for drone technology there is also a very valid and long list of reasons to tightly regulate their use. Now I will duck and let the comments fly.

For a more lighthearted approach watch this trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1Hhvdpvp5o

And the backlash begins: http://petapixel.com/2015/06/05/1350-camera-drone-whacked-out-of-the-air-by-an-angry-neighbor/

That particular commercial drone was being operated unlawfully. /\

Just wanted to keep you in the loop. I'm hard at work producing a brand new website for www.kirktuck.com. It's not up yet but it's coming along much quicker than I expected.

Candidate for first splash page shot on the new website. 

I know you are a very curious person and the fact that I am making a new website is probably a lot less interesting to you than a discussion of which software program I am using and how I am making the whole thing simpler and more compact. So I thought I would tell you right now. 

I put up my first website back in 1996. It was pretty good for 1996. I designed the look and a bright, young kid coded it for me and helped me figure out how to get it hosted. When flash sites were cool (for about six months) one of my advertising friends designed a site for me and his partner did the coding. It was also great---except for one thing; I couldn't change stuff on the site by myself. I couldn't update images, etc. without going back with my checkbook in hand and enduring the process. 

When Apple, Inc. launched iWeb I was ecstatic. Finally, a drop and draggable WYSIWYG web building application that didn't require me to learn how to code. I've been using it for years and I liked the way the basics of my site looked. It was also very easy to make changes to everything. Which I probably did too often...

Eventually Apple pulled the plug on iWeb and I've been living in anxiety trying to prepare for the moment when the OS would no longer support my favorite web design program. My anxiety was so complete that I more or less stopped changing the site because I feared I'd screw something up and not be able to go back and repair it. Irrational? Yeah. But that's just the way my brain works (or doesn't). 

But we all hit some sort of tipping point in our decision making processes and when my friend, James, launched a new website and recharged his marketing I started searching for my new web tools. 

I wanted a drop-and-drag, no code needed, simple to use application that would allow me to make dynamically resizable galleries. I didn't need templates or themes but would welcome help if it was included. I'm trying out a program called, Sparkle, that is engineered for easy use on the Apple OS. I first stuck my foot into the water with the free trial but after a couple of days of (non-crashing) fun and easy designing I went ahead and bought the program. 

A quick aside: I had a problem with the install and I e-mailed the software company's support people. I had an answer back, which fixed my problem, in less than fifteen minutes. I liked that.  

Now I am confronting the bigger issue which is: what to show?

I wish I could just put every image I've ever taken up on the web in some sort of art director portal and crowdsource the final selection. Maybe pare it all down from 7500 or so favorites to maybe 25 or 30. Occasionally, my award winning graphic designer wife looks over my shoulder and gently says, "You don't have to include everything...." Or, "Bigger type isn't necessarily better type..." But she's left me to make most of the rookie errors no doubt thinking that she'll drop in and help me clean it up before we launch.

I love the month after re-launching a website. You then have good reason to market the hell out of yourself and maybe even re-invent parts of your business. 

We'll see how it goes since I live my career so publicly. But do me one favor, if you really hate the new site maybe just send me an e-mail with suggestions. I actually have good reading comprehension skills---they are much better than my picture editing skills.

I came across a black and white portrait, shot long ago, that I had almost forgotten. I like it.

Joe McClain. Austin Lyric Opera.

I'm racking my brain to remember exactly why we were photographing Joe. He was one of the founders of the Austin Lyric Opera way back in 1986 and I remember this being shot around 1992 or 1993 for one of the city magazines. The image ran big and well printed at the time and later the ALO used it on their printed collateral without my permission. I didn't make a big deal out of it. I knew that the organization had been started and was operating on a limited budget and that Joe was working overtime to get the organization moving forward.

While the web mythologizes nearly everything having to do with photographic assignments this one was typical of the times. There was no art director on the location. Nor was there a make-up person or a second assistant or even a first assistant. I called Joe and asked when we could shoot and if he could suggest a location at the Opera. They has a big storage area full of stage props that we both agreed would be visually interesting. It was. 

I met Joe there at the appointed time, we chatted for a few minutes and then I saw the chair and asked him to sit. I reacted to the interesting pedestal hovering over his head the the matching diagonal of the   furniture on the right of the frame by standing up and aiming the camera down include everything I wanted. We tried a few different expressions and a few different gestures but this one was just the right combination of stuff for me.

I didn't light the scene because it looked just right to me for a black and white image. I just metered Joe's face, handheld the camera and fired off as many frames as I needed to get an image in the finder that I liked. 

This was shot on Tri-X black and white film and no doubt processed in D76 diluted 1:1. Since it was an assignment for a magazine I printed it on resin coated paper to save myself a long wash time and an even longer drying time. 

Funny in retrospect to think that so much of the work we were doing for editorial clients was so unstructured. The only two questions I asked when I accepted the job (by phone -- no e-mail back then) were: "Can I shoot this in black and white?" And, "Do you want a horizontal or a vertical?"
The art director trusted me to deliver something that would work so when I showed up with just the one print no eyebrows were raised. 

We worked. We delivered. We billed. All of the drama seems to have arrived recently, and I'm not sure it helps the process very much...

Another Austin Summer is Upon Us and Once Again I'm Getting Ready to be a Tourist in My Own Town.

Noellia on the banks of Barton Springs.

We've had our torrential rains, our flash floods and our soggy studios. The weather forecast says the next ten days are going to be sunny and bright. We'll get the mold out of the allergy forecasts and the waterways will settle down and get clear. I'm ready to step into Summer and make Austin my personal tourist attraction. I've got my tourist cameras ready. On one shoulder is my dandy still camera, the Olympus EM-5.2 in chrome. Usually sporting some sort of cool, prime lens. Right now it's the 25mm Leica Summilux. Tomorrow it might be something from Sigma. On my other shoulder is my tourist video camera. It's also an EM-5.2 but it's got a 12-35mm Panasonic zoom on it and that lens is sporting one of three neutral density filters that help my video settings cope with full sun. It's also got a little shotgun microphone hanging off the hot shoe. 

Remember Super-8 film from the 1960's and 1970's? Even Lady Bird Johnson was into the "tourist film" aesthetic and took her 8 mm and then super-8 mm camera with her on every trip. That's what I want to do. I want to take the "professional" out of the process and just react to the stuff that comes along. Stuff that's Summer-y. Stuff that's cool. 

I might just start editing a little two minute film once a week and post it here to counteract all the exciting new, cutting edge, super tech stuff we get inundated with. It could work.....

And what would my Summer be without the Western Hills Athletic Club pool?
Get ready to see it from every angle!

I hate working in the Summer. Everything seems to slow down and clients drag their feet when it comes to giving approvals and making selections for images that need to be retouched or videos that need to be edited. I like it best when the pace picks up again in the Fall and we can get into being busy instead of being sporadically poked by projects. 

I shot yesterday with my EM5.2. It was on a job. It reminded me why I like to shoot with the Nikon D810. But today I shot with the Nikon D810 and it reminded me why I like to shoot with the little Olympus. Go figure....